Few things in life are more remarkable than the birth of a child. The birthing experience is a daunting process with many options to sort through both before, during, and after the actual delivery. Doulas serve as a guide along that journey. The support for doulas continues to grow in Louisville and Southern Indiana.
Doulas mediate the birth experience with services ranging from childbirth education, labor support, postpartum support and even placenta encapsulation.
Randi Skaggs knows first-hand about the benefit of doulas. The Highlands resident and language arts teacher at Farnsley Middle School used two different doulas for the births of her two children, who are now nine and three years old.
“I knew both times that I wanted to have unmedicated vaginal births if at all possible, and doulas are proven to increase a birthing mother’s odds of achieving that,” she says. “I also wanted emotional support from a fellow woman. My husband, Dave, is a wonderful birth partner, but there’s something about having another woman in the room who is there specifically for you that is so empowering. Everyone is thinking about the baby, as they should be, so it’s nice to know that someone is solely looking out for your comfort and well-being.”
Lucky for Skaggs and other moms-to-be, Louisville’s doula community is thriving. Despite lagging behind its national counterparts in offering birth options that deviate from physician-led births, Louisvillians are embracing new birth choices such as doula practices and midwifery.
Not only are there annual events like Doulapalooza that provide resources to expecting mothers, but organizations, like Mama to Mama and the Birth Care Network, work to put new parents in touch with prospective doulas.
“We have a wonderful doula community here. It was very easy to get connected with a group of doulas who were available for my due date,” says Skaggs. “They are very supportive of each other, freely recommending another doula who may be more your style.”
Nicole Sichting, a midwife at WomanCare practice in Jeffersonville, is excited about both the midwife and doula community in the Kentucky and Southern Indiana areas.
“Midwifery and doula involvement enhances the community by providing options for women,” says Sichting. “Doula presence throughout labor and delivery is so important as the doula can be the woman’s voice in labor.”
How it Works
Doulas, pregnant mothers, and their support people develop a plan of how they hope that birth can go, and the doula acts as the compass during the labor pointing the woman in the direction she desires. Doulas are not able to independently deliver babies, but are critical in natural childbirth and have decreased epidural and cesarean rates of the women they serve.
While doulas come in all forms they share one important similarity. “Being a doula means being unconditionally supportive,” says Clare Gervasi, a doula based in Old Louisville. “It means being present, not in an attendance-type way, but in a spiritual and emotional and material sense. Putting one’s whole consciousness into observing and lifting up someone else.”
Emily Pickett views her role as Doula and Director of Mama to Mama, a non-profit organization in Louisville aimed at helping increase social support for all mothers, in a different perspective.
“At heart, I am a human rights activist,” says Pickett. “As a doula, I approach my work through a reproductive justice frame, which means that I believe that achieving healthy birth and community outcomes are deeply intertwined with social, political, economic, mental, and emotional needs of women and birthing folks.”
As advocates, doulas strive not only to make sure that delivery is a pleasant experience but a safe one.
“I think there’s a very common misconception that you would only hire a doula if you want an unmedicated birth. The truth is, doulas are incredibly valuable for ALL births. They help the birthing woman, and her family prioritize their wishes and take steps to help the birthing woman achieve her birth goals,” says Skaggs.
“Some women want an epidural and use their doulas to help them delay the placement,” she continues. “Others have a scheduled c-section and work with a doula to help ease nerves and assist the recovering mother post-surgery.”
Some local hospitals even allow the doula in the room during the C-section to offer support. And almost all doulas will agree that they assist the birth partner as much (if not more) than the mother. It’s hard for the partner to know how to help, and doulas can show them great ways to connect with the mother.
Skaggs specifically chose to deliver her children at the doula-friendly Clark Memorial Hospital in Jeffersonville, Ind., which works with the nurse-midwives at WomanCare. “My experience was lovely,” says Skaggs, who remains in touch with her doula.
“My doula (Lorie Baltes) is a friend whose kids go to my daughter’s school! I still talk with many of my doula friends, and I still like to keep up with the latest doula news.”
More Public Acceptance
Many hospitals are becoming more accepting of doulas. “I get the feeling that hospitals are beginning to see the value in doulas,” Skaggs says. “Many of them are even starting to stock up on yoga balls and other tools that doulas often use.”
Pickett shares Skaggs’ optimistic appraisal of the birthing community. She says, “For the most part, I feel like we have a lot of healthy collaboration happening among doulas as well as with midwives, obstetricians, and nursing staff. There is certainly more relationship building that needs to happen to continue to strengthen the birth community and bring improvements to how we support birth in Louisville, but we have the depth of talent, expertise, and heart to nurture that process.”
Erica Brown, a Doula and Yoga Instructor at Oshun Blue Therapeutic Massage and Yoga has also noticed a change in acceptance. “My first year as a doula I noticed opposition from some medical staff, but in the last couple years, I’ve noticed a change in attitude. Many OBs and nurses actually suggest to their patients that they get a Doula,” she says.
As women seek to write their own birth stories, doulas will continue to support them.